Sisterhood Blog

Israeli Scientist (and Grandmother) Wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry

By Gabrielle Birkner

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Take that, Larry Summers.

Israeli scientist (and grandmother!) Ada Yonath, 70, became the first woman since 1964 to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry — and the first Israeli woman ever to do so.

According to Nobel Prize selection board, Yonath, together with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan of the U.K. and Thomas Steitz of the U.S., received the award for pioneering “studies of the structure of the ribosome.”

In a profile of the scientist, published last year by the Web site Israel 21c, Yonath weighed in on the stereotype that women don’t have what it takes to succeed in mathematics and the sciences:

“Women make up half the population,” [Yonath] says. “I think the population is losing half of the human brain power by not encouraging woman to go into the sciences. Woman can do great things if they are encouraged to do so.”

… Today, plans to retire are a long way off and she is still working hard, welcoming organized groups into her lab through a program organized by a local high-tech company, El-Op. This program encourages young women to enter scientific fields by giving them a closer look at the scientific life.

“I want them to decide for themselves if they want to study science,” she says. “I would like woman to have the opportunity to do what is interesting to them, to go after their curiosity. And I would like the world to be open to that. I know in many places there is opposition to that.”

Haaretz is reporting that upon hearing the news, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Yonath to express his “enormous pride, along with the entire nation” for her achievements and for clinching of a prize that he called the “Olympics of humanity.”

Yonath was born, in 1939, into a poor family in Jerusalem. Encouraged by her parents to pursue the kind of education that they never had the chance to acquire, she went on to earn degrees in chemistry and biochemistry, before completing her doctorate in x-ray crystallography at Weizmann Institute of Science and accepting post-doctoral fellowships at Carnegie Mellon and MIT. She is currently the director of the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly of the Weizmann Institute of Science.


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